The national group conducted a survey of superfund and potential superfund sites across the country, suggesting that the one-two punch of global warming and the financial depletion of the superfund itself is creating the potential for extremely hazardous storm conditions in most states.
Newtown Creek is currently being tested for inclusion on the superfund priority list, which would increase the likelihood of it being cleaned, but local elected officials met at the creek on Friday to demand more funding and faster action from the federal government.
The Federal Superfund program was created in 1980 as a response to the Love Canal dumping site and other, similar sites across the country. The fund provided billions of dollars to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to immediately clean up sites that were considered pressing environmental concerns, and it was paid for largely by the corporations that were considered to be polluters.
In 1995, the legislation requiring corporations to pay into the fund expired, and the bill for superfund cleanups has since been turned over to taxpayers, which has led to the slow decrease in money available to clean the sites, as well as the EPA’s ability to clean sites included on the list.
CHEJ’s study, using the example of Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of contaminated waters into urban and suburban New Orleans neighborhood as a worst-case scenario, suggests that as the spread of contamination from superfund sites increases, so too should the funding and speed of cleanup.
“During Katrina, there were significant problems at superfund sites throughout the area, and it is those exact problems that we want to avoid at other sites,” said Michael Schade, a representative of CHEJ.
Speaking specifically about Newtown Creek, Schade said, “The water level right now is relatively high, and if there was a storm, there could be flooding around the creek which would present a significant hazard to workers and residents of Greenpoint, Long Island City, and other neighborhoods.”
“Newtown Creek is a real-life example of how climate change poses unknown and potentially catastrophic threats to contaminated sites,” said Katie Schmid, director of the Newtown Creek Alliance. “Rising sea levels and changes in the water table will threaten already crumbling bulk heads and force contamination to migrate in unpredictable ways that would expose people to harm.”
Even though Newtown Creek has yet to qualify for the superfund list (it is currently being tested by the EPA, with results expected in April), CHEJ, local elected officials, Riverkeeper, and the Newtown Creek Alliance say that the best way to expedite its cleanup is to strengthen the superfund by reinstating the “polluter fees.”
“The term ‘superfund’ is a misnomer. It should be called the ‘disappointing-fund,’” said Congressman Anthony Weiner. “Over the course of time, we have allowed lobbyists from the petroleum industry to cut off the legislation that has companies pay into the fund.”
“We’re asking polluters to do what’s right and pay for the environmental devastation that they have caused,” added Congresswwoman Nydia Velazquez.
“For too long, Newtown Creek has been dumped in and then ignored,” said Councilman Eric Gioia. “How can you feel good about paying your taxes when they have turned a blind eye to this creek?
One of the companies responsible for contamination in Newtown Creek, ExxonMobil, has accepted responsibility for the mess.
“ExxonMobil takes its environmental responsibilities very seriously,” said Maggie Brown, a representative of the company. “We are prepared to work cooperatively with the EPA, the state, New York City, and all other potentially responsible parties to address the situation in Newtown Creek.”
Regardless of the cooperation offered by companies responsible for contamination, Weiner and Velazquez are sponsors of new congressional legislation that would reestablish the “polluter pays” fees that would invigorate the superfund, and both congressional representatives were hopeful that it would pass this year.
“Our legislation will hopefully be one step in what makes residents of Brooklyn and Queens satisfied,” said Weiner. “We won’t let a problem discovered by our grandparents be cleaned up by our grandchildren.